One of the toughest things with our favorite genre is trying to keep up with all the amazing movies that come out each year. If you miss out on such-and-such festival or that one-time-only streaming event, you might have to wait f-o-r-e-v-e-r to catch a film everyone’s been raving about. That’s how it was for me with Murder Bury Win (2020).
Luckily, with this year’s Thingy Awards looming on the horizon, I had a reason to reach out to writer/director Michael Lovan in hopes of getting his debut feature in front of my eyeballs. And, man, am I glad I did. If you’re a board game nerd or just a fan of superbly written black comedies, this is a movie for you.
And you won’t have to wait forever to see it! Murder Bury Win was recently picked up by Gravitas Ventures for US distribution and pre-orders are already open. Add it to your streaming collection or put it on your movie shelf; the release date has been set as April 27!
Not only that, but at the end of this week (April 9th – April 11th), there’ll be a “flash sale” at the Apple store so you can save some dollars! Who doesn’t like saving dollars?
But, wait! There’s more! As an added bonus, anyone who pre-orders the movie (either streaming or a physical copy) can get their very own deck of the “Murder Bury Win” cards as seen in the film. For FREE. Just provide proof of your pre-order as described on the official MurderBuryWin.com website.
Okay, okay, enough with the hard sell (though, seriously, someone should throw money at Mr. Lovan).
Being the generous human that he is, Michael agreed to answer a few questions for us regarding his film, board games, and getting hit in the face with fish. Thanks, Michael!
First off, because it’s tradition, can you give us an idea of your cinematic influences? Which writers or directors have shaped how you approach filmmaking?
I was greatly influenced by Ebert’s perspective on film, and one thing he’s said has stuck with me: “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” Keeping with that framework, I always try to engage with each film on its own terms. So I think it’s fair to say, I’ve been influenced by films I enjoyed and didn’t. But if I look at the films I return to, or find myself geeking out about more often than not, there are definitely some recurring players: Martyrs, Noroi, Pulse, Cure, the first Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Princess Mononoke, Jaws, and Child’s Play come to mind a lot. Once Were Warriors, of course, because it’s a great fucking movie. I don’t binge many filmmakers or writers, but I’d marathon either Kurosawa Kiyoshi or Wes Craven any day of the week, depending on whether I wanted to have an existential crisis or get chills.
For Murder Bury Win, I was terrified of fucking everything up. I was going to be the sole producer and director on set, which was pretty daunting. To keep my head on straight, I would go back to Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew and read his story over and over again. That book and his boldness really helped me find the courage to keep on moving from pre-production until we got the first shot in the can.
Since Murder Bury Win is very much a love letter to board games, game stores, and game junkies in general, what board games do you like to play with friends? And how did you go about researching board game culture when in the writing phase?
So, I’ve always been in love with board gaming, but paradoxically, I’m not a competitive person. This definitely aligns me with board games that are more cooperative, like Pandemic or even like Once Upon a Time, the latter which facilitates an environment of cooperation through storytelling. My enjoyment of collaborative games is very contingent on the environment and the people playing with me. There’s a time and place in my life for Monopoly, Clue, or even Exploding Kittens, but I have to be with the right group. It’s this juggling of the tenets of competition and of collaboration that really inform the movie I made, which questions the meaning of value systems that would have someone win so long as someone also loses.
In terms of research, I actually work in the gaming industry, and I’ve spent a good amount of time traveling to gaming conventions, buying games, and meeting gamers. So I feel like I have a pretty cohesive and informed grasp of board game culture as I’ve subjectively experienced it. The characters in my film are largely proxies to aspects of myself, mixed with some of the people closest to me.
From the sounds of it, both Murder Bury Win the movie and the board game organically evolved together. Rewrites of the script required adjustments to the game and vice versa. But which came first: the chicken or the egg?
Yeah, the screenplay and board game were developed side-by-side. The film was always first, though, so the mechanics of the game always followed. I told one of my best friends from high school – John Hart – that I was going to make a film and I wanted him to help me develop a story. Of course, he was always there in my life, taking part in countless memories playing board games.
While we were tossing ideas around, we kept gravitating towards the idea of a board game being central to the story. As we were familiar with the culture around it, it felt like a great avenue to explore, and once we came upon the central focus of the game – kill someone and dispose of the body – it was too great an idea to pass by. And from there, as we developed the beats of the story, I made the rules to the game to accommodate the script.
When hunting for actors to fill the roles of the game designing trio — Chris, Adam, and Barrett — was their knowledge of board games important? And how much input did they have in the board game’s development?
Not important at all, actually, though Erich Lane – who plays Adam – and Craig Cackowski – who plays V.V. Stubbs – they’re both board game nerds. Their experience with board gaming actually helped during development a great deal, though: within the film, when the characters criticize the game, those criticisms were the feedback I received from the cast, nearly verbatim, when we had our first cast reading and play-tested the game for the first time. I thought the criticisms were great, and wove them into the dialogue. Life imitating art, or art imitating life – I’m not sure which one.
Were there any COVID complications during the making of Murder Bury Win? Filming restrictions, testing requirements, uncertain festival schedules, and so on?
Well, we shot Murder Bury Win two years before the pandemic, in April of 2018. Post-production wrapped just before the pandemic hit, and so the prospect of having a life on the festival circuit got completely upended. While it’s a major bummer that my film didn’t get the theatrical experience on the festival circuit, there’s a lot gained: Murder Bury Win found a lot of its niche audience in people who were stuck at home playing games. I was able to attend literally every Q&A and that’s not something that would have been possible any other year. I’ll never know how things would have turned out if I had the film submitted to festivals the year before, but I’m grateful for the experience I did get.
With nearly 20 wins on the festival circuit for everything from directing and original screenplay to costume design and hairstyling, Murder Bury Win was a film festival juggernaut. How confident were you that you had something special when you started submitting your film for consideration? And does such an overwhelming success change how you feel about submitting future films to festivals?
Before I made the film, I made two promises to myself: first, that I wouldn’t make money from it – the experience of making and then having the film would be the compensation. And second, that I wouldn’t make a film for anyone else – it had to be something that I would enjoy. You know that expression, that the more specific you are, the more universal your message becomes? I was focused on making a film that was honest to my feelings and true to my perspective, and tried not to focus on the response.
So when I submitted the film to a handful of festivals I really cared about, I literally didn’t know what to expect. I heard nothing for several months and I told myself, “Well, there’s your answer.” But then within the span of about two weeks, I heard from literally every festival I hoped to get into – Austin Film Festival being a bucket list catch.
The awards are something I’m still trying to process. In any configuration of people, I’m literally always the guy who gets the “participant ribbon.” Ironically, my lack of winning and loathing of competition may have shaped the perspectives that created the movie, and the movie’s attempt at challenging the idea of winning has garnered the film a significant number of wins. I take solace in the fact that being selected at any festival is already a win, so technically, there aren’t any losers here. I’m happiest about the awards knowing that my cast and crew have been recognized for their hard work. Without them, nothing would ever have been made.
Now that you’re an accomplished writer/director with a multi-award winning film, will you miss having your partner, Amy Everson, slap you in the face with fish while making music videos?
Deep cut! So, for context, Amy – production designer on Murder Bury Win, my wife, mother to my daughter, and muse – she was doing some art & costume directing for Modest Mouse’s Lampshades on Fire music video, and the director (Jorge Torres-Torres) allowed me to pitch an idea, and I suggested that Amy slap me with the fish. Thank god that made it into the music video, because that fish was frozen and it really fucking hurt. I can’t envision a timeline where we aren’t helping each other with some creative project. To keep us engaged during the pandemic, we’ve been doing elaborate monthly family portraits. Most recently we did a Gremlins photoshoot, where my daughter was Gizmo, I was Billy, and Amy was Mr. Wing – complete with blind eye and beard. It’s the little things.
What’s next for you and your production company, Head Turner Films? Can we look forward to more genre projects in the future?
Definitely. I’ve got a number of projects ready to go, each dependent on budget and who’s paying for it. Like this film, they each weave through multiple genres, though from here on out I’m likely to go a lot harder into horror. I’ve also got something awesome cooking up with Jonathan Snipes, the composer of Murder Bury Win, and fingers crossed that I take that on next.
Do you have any advice for hopeful movie makers out there? Or game designers for that matter?
Absolutely. Aspiring filmmakers — I’m a nobody who had no right to make a film, but I did it without the backing of a studio and without anyone’s permission. If I can do it, you can do it too. It might take days or years to align the time and the budget to do it (it took me more than ten years) so, in the meantime, take your time writing something you believe in, that’s achievable on the kind of budget you know you can get. Take your time researching how it can get made. Figure out what you want to do yourself and what you will need to offload to others – remember that just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean that you should. And when it’s go-time, make sure you hire people you can pay, that you can feed, and that you can trust. Treat them well, remind them you appreciate them, and don’t let anyone stick around who makes you doubt the last X amount of years preparing for the moment.
Game designers — never let a screenplay dictate the mechanics of your game or you will regret it.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Murder Bury Win is as independent as a film production can get and will rely heavily on word-of-mouth to stay afloat, so please check it out and tell your board game friends. For those budding filmmakers out there reading this, I hope you know that making a film is entirely possible and within your grasp as well. Feel free to reach out to me if you need a boost: murderburywin at gmail dot com or via the contact forms at www.MurderBuryWin.com.
Once again, a big “thank you!” to Michael Lovan for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. All of us here at The Scariest Things wish him the best of luck with Murder Bury Win and whatever project he decides to tackle next.
Interview by Robert Zilbauer.